Letter from the US: LA govts defy Washington

July 15, 2013
Protest in La Paz outside the French embassy over the denial of airspace to a plane carrying President Evo Morales.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has offered asylum to Edward Snowden, the courageous whistle-blower who has exposed the vast NSA spying on every US citizen who uses a phone or the Internet, as well as people throughout the world.

Bolivian president Evo Morales and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega followed suit.

These three countries broke the diplomatic iron ring Washington sought to place around Snowden, who has been protected but in a sort of limbo in the transit area of Moscow’s international airport.

Attack on Morales

The turning point was a major uproar in Latin America against Washington’s pressuring of European countries to force down a plane carrying Morales home from an official trade visit to Russia. The US suspected, falsely, that Snowden was aboard.

Washington’s lackeys in the French, Portuguese, Spanish and Italian governments suddenly rescinded permission for Morales’ plane, while in the air, to cross over their airspace, or to refuel.

The plane was running low on fuel when it was finally allowed to land in Vienna. The Austrian authorities boarded the plane to search for Snowden, but found he was not onboard.

The incident was a clear demonstration that Washington is willing to violate international law and diplomatic protocols in its bid to prevent Snowden safely reaching a nation willing to grant him asylum. The US government’s real purpose was most likely to demonstrate this fact.

That it was willing to endanger the head of another government underscores the threat.

The event has stirred deep resentment throughout Latin America. A broad spectrum of governments on the continent and the Caribbean expressed outrage at this blatant violation of a sister country’s sovereignty. This reflects the deep concern of their citizens against a background of centuries of US imperialist intervention in the region.

Mass demonstrations took place in Bolivia. Morales castigated those European countries who kowtowed to Washington, especially Spain, Portugal and France with their long histories of imperialist oppression in Latin America and the Caribbean.

He humorously noted that these former colonisers have now groveled before the big imperialist power.

Washington defied

After Maduro announced granting Snowden asylum, a “senior Obama administration official” told the New York Times on July 6 that if Venezuela shelters Snowden, the US would break off talks to improve relations between the two countries.

An anonymous State Department official said: “There is not a country in the hemisphere whose government does not understand our position at this point.”

The official asserted that granting Snowden asylum “would put relations in a very bad place for a long time to come”.

On July 8, Maduro said “We received an application letter for asylum from Snowden. He will need to decide when to fly here, if he definitely wants to fly here.

“The fact is that Latin America is humanitarian territory, and it’s growing every day. This would be probably the only humanitarian asylum or political asylum that will be given collectively in history. There are already a couple of countries participating.

“This is a collective humanitarian asylum in which the territory of our Latin America, which is always human, says to the young man, ‘You are being persecuted by the imperialists. It’s best to come here.’”

Maduro was right. He was speaking not only as Venezuela’s president, but for all the peoples of Latin America.

On July 8, Glenn Greenwald, who has been releasing Snowden’s revelations, wrote in Brazil’s O Globo exposing further documents from Snowden about US mass collection of all electronic data in Brazil and other Latin American countries.

Snowden’s documents showed the most targeted countries were Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil and Mexico. Also swept up were Argentina, Ecuador, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Paraguay, Chile, Peru and El Salvador.

O Globo reported that the NSA programs went beyond military affairs to “commercial interests”. These included oil in Venezuela and energy in Mexico.

This was a bombshell in Brazil. Even the middle-of-the-road Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, whose government has itself faced recent mass demonstrations, responded: “It is definitely a violation of sovereignty, without a doubt, just as it is a violation of human rights. Now we have to see, without rashness or prejudgment. We have to investigate.

“Brazil’s position is very clear and very strong: we do not agree in any way with these kinds of interferences, not just in Brazil, but in any country.”

Anger in Europe

Fresh revelations from Snowden’s leaks exposed huge US spying in Europe. The NSA spied on European Union offices in Brussels, Washington, and the United Nations, as well as 38 embassies and missions.

This has caused a diplomatic uproar between the countries of the European Union and the US. But more important, it has caused deep resentment among ordinary Europeans, already angered by Snowden’s revelations that the NSA is snagging all electronic messages throughout the world.

German paper Der Spiegel said the new revelations show that NSA intercepts 500 million communications a month in Germany alone.

No wonder European citizens are alarmed and most support Snowden.

There have been demonstrations in Germany demanding the government grant Snowden asylum.

France 24 International News reported on July 7: “NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden should be given political asylum in France, party leaders from across the political spectrum have said in the wake of the latest US spying allegations … amid demands for ongoing free trade talks between the [European Union] and Washington to be put on hold.

“Jean-Luc Melenchon, leader of France’s Left Party (Parti de Gauche), told BFM TV [France’s most watched news channel] that the extent of alleged U.S. spying on European communications was ‘arrogant’ and ‘breathtaking.’”

Melenchon said: “Edward Snowden…has done us a good service. It’s thanks to him that we know we have been spied on. It is not acceptable that we allow a situation whereby he wanders uncertainly around the planet. He is a defender of all our freedoms.”

Melenchon called for France to give him immediate asylum. The Green Party, in a coalition with the ruling Socialist Party, echoed Melanchon’s call.

Even Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front said France had a duty to take Snowden under its wing, saying “Snowden let the whole world know what the US is doing, and he’s being hunted down for it”.

Socialist President Francois Hollande has called on the US to “immediately stop” spying on European institutions, but hasn’t responded to Melenchon’s demand that he grant Snowden asylum. Given his craven role in helping force down Morales’ airplane, it is unlikely he would.

In face of the White House’s determination to capture or kill Snowden, it will be quite difficult to arrange his travel to Latin America. The incident with the Bolivian president’s plane underscores the danger.

This danger is so palpable that two reporters in the July 7 NYT raised the question, “would the United States go so far as to force down a commercial jetliner once it crosses into American airspace, which is part of its normal flight path?”

Is Snowden already on Obama’s secret list of Americans cleared for killing? He has already been charged under the Espionage Act as a virtual traitor.

On US talk shows on July 7, “respected” spokespeople reiterated the “treason” change, which carries the death penalty.
[Barry Sheppard was a long-time leader of the US Socialist Workers Party and the Fourth International. He recounts his experience in the SWP in a two-volume book, The Party — the Socialist Workers Party 1960-1988, available from Resistance Books. Read more of Sheppard's articles.]

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.